People working in big companies are often discussing the merits of startups. It appears, in startups everything is easier, quicker and the employees (and therefore also the companies) are getting more done. Is it the long working hours? Lack of legacy products that need supporting? Or better employee motivation in general? Having worked at a couple of startups (mostly during my study time), at university (which is probably best described as anti-startup), in small companies and big companies, here is my take on the reasons why I think startups are more productive. One I will describe here, a second reason I will share in a later post. Maybe there are more, but those two strike me as important enough to highlight them here.

A big differentiator and productivity booster for me is employee empowerment, leading to quick decision making. Look at this example, where the name of a new company is decided upon in 2 hours. Yes, it helps that at this point the two owners are the only ones involved in the decision. Yet – in most big companies nothing remotely as big is decided in anywhere close to two hours. For important decisions, thorough research is needed, right? After all, you don’t want to be caught not knowing the facts when presenting the reasons for your suggestion to your boss? And then he still needs to convince his boss. Or even someone higher up the chain. In big companies, this can go on forever. Every level of management wants to contribute, requiring even more research, information-gathering and work. In the end, the poor guy that needs the decision is totally exhausted and tired of discussing things again and again – and will accept any decision (does not matter how suboptimal) – just to make the process end. Even if he, being the specialist on the topic, knows better :-(.

Things like that happen in big companies, they never happen in startups.  One of the key enablers to getting the startup-mindset back into big organizations is to empower its people, delegating authority and responsibility for a decision to them. Few bosses and companies actually follow through with it and give the employees that know most about a topic (the specialists) the authority to decide by themselves, creating their own successes and mistakes in the process, learning and growing from it – to emerge as better employees in the end. Theodore Roosevelt has a great quote about this topic:

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.

Theodore Roosevelt

Wise words, known for a long time already. Yet – still not followed through often enough. So – are you really empowering your employees to do their best work?